Thursday, April 24, 2008

Be Kind

Old man outside my window harshly scolding crying toddler just now:

"It's just a whinge, is all you are is a whinge, always crying all the time. Waaa waaa waaa. Stop right now crying. And why you wipe your nose on your shirt. Here, he is a tissue."

Suited young businessman talking intensely into mobile phone at train station yesterday:

"They're saying that because they're ugly people. You're surrounded by those people and they're all ugly. You're in an empire of idiots."

Young woman talking rapidly to friend on tram a few weeks ago:

"I'm not talking to her now. Firstly, the other day I was saying something and I said the word longjeopardy and she said ' I think it's longevity' and I said no, it's longjeopardy and she said it wasn't and even looked it up on google on her phone and I thought she was tricking me somehow. And then I got home and looked it up and she was right, so now I'm not talking to her cos I'm mad."

Kurt Vonnegut:

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Just Some Questions About Some People

From my window I can see across the park opposite my house. In fact I have a park behind my house too which I think makes me lucky and/or astute in the ways of real estate. But it's the front park - one of inner Melbourne's bigger parks - that is offered up to me every single day and there are people who wander past on almost every one of those days.

Hipster Pug Man

This one man turns up on a daily basis in his vintage hepcatmobile and lets his awesome pug loose on the park. He always dresses like a real hipster (the man) in big shades and sweet shirts and an icebox attitude and he lets his pug go nuts on the field. He throws sticks and jives along the path and sometimes talks to other park-goers. But he does it daily and I wonder: why are you driving here? You can't be a local, Hipster Pug Man, or you'd walk here. And you can't be too far off, since you check in every single day. Is it possible that you live in a house so close that this is the nearest place to walk your dog, but so distant that you have to drive? You confuse my sense of scale, Hipster Pug Man!

The Guy Formerly Known As Basketball Guy

This guy's arrival used to be heralded by the PFUNGGG... PFUNGGG... PFUNGGG of a basketball lazily bounced in front of him as he walked. One of those old school deals in faded purple and orange with the tiny raised bumps for grip. He was tall and broad and had thick curly brown hair and usually smiled a little bit even though he was on his own. He would amble up the street and head for the court in the middle of the park, always on his own in the middle of the day. I wondered if he would find someone at the court to "shoot some hoops" with. I hoped so.

Then one day he began dribbling his basketball with a girl walking alongside him. They were both young and talking amiably and though she didn't seem interested in the basketball they seemed interested in each other. I thought: good for you two.

Now the guy has mostly stopped going to the park, but occasionally he appears on his own. No girl, no basketball. Like today, he arrived and lay down on his back on the grass with his eyes closed. I went out for a few hours and when I came back he was still there. Eyes still closed, still on his own. Now I hope everything is alright for the guy I once knew as Basketball Guy.

Child-Walking Lady

Child-Walking Lady walks her four- or five-year-old toddler for long stretches. The little guy cavorts in the park, having adventures with tan bark and discovering the secrets of trees. All the while, Child-Walking Lady keeps a close eye on her charge while remaining entirely unusually dressed for the position. She wears clothes better suited to a star-studded event opening - expensive black dresses or shiny suits. Her hair is short and slicked-down and she spends long serious periods on her phone. She dresses like she has somewhere important to be, somewhere where she will be seen. Why do you dress like this for a stroll in the park, Child-Walking Lady? I imagine you have your reasons.

Old Pants

Poor Old Pants! That might be condescending, but he is poor. Old Pants drops by the park most days to walk up to a particular spot of hedging and lower his pants. He's very old and kind of dirty looking, but I don't think anybody would be offended by him. He keeps a large and baggy pair of boxers on when he drops his trousers and doesn't actually do anything once they're around his ankles. If anything, he does this in such an organised fashion that the casual passerby would probably think he was just a liberated older fellow dropping his pants momentarily in order to adjust some otherwise inaccessible undergarments. Then the pants are back up and belted before you know it. Nothing to see here, folks. It's just that he does it most days, and in the same spot. If you look closely, his belt is a length of rope. His face is tanned and unwashed. And nobody talks to Old Pants.

As I say, it doesn't seem particularly offensive and he's technically keeping decent. But it's an odd routine. Maybe he's only enjoying the air. Do you even know, Old Pants? Will anyone ever stop to find out?

Bike Waiter

Lots of people ride their bikes past my window, often without helmets. I envy their care- and helmet-free ways. And lots of people ride bikes to the park throughout the day and dump their wheels on a patch of green and lie down for some quiet time. One woman takes this practice to epic, Lawrence of Arabia levels. She'll often arrive in the early afternoon and sit down in a nice sunny spot for hours at a time. Not just a couple of hours, either. I've clocked her at seven hour stretches. She'll read, sometimes, but more often she'll just sit thinking or maybe cat-napping. At first I thought she was waiting for someone, and sure enough a friend would often turn up. But this would be after a good three or four hour wait. And just as often she'll leave alone, not disappointed at having been stood up or anything. Why does she spend an entire working day thinking in the park? Who does this? Who is allowed to do this?

Sleazy Chest

One man in his 50s used to turn up during summer and settle down for some tanning time. He would strip off his shirt to show off the ripped abs under his crinkly newspaper chest. And he would make a point of his tanning routine in order to justify his staring at women like the Bike Waiter. Maybe he thought his partial nudity was some kind of concession pass, but from my window his 20-minute long sideways looks at people nearby came across as creepy. He hasn't been around lately, which saved me from having to yell "quit the leching, lechy!"

Cos I woulda.

Bird Dude

I have a quiet respect for the Bird Dude. He doesn't raise the same kinds of questions my other cast of characters pose. He does what he does, and what he does is walk past my window with a bird on each shoulder. He seems about my age and his birds are small. One bright yellow and one bright blue. They're about the size of canaries, but neither my eyesight nor my knowledge of birds is enough to identify their breed. Hell, I don't even know if breed is the right word. But Bird Dude probably knows. He walks past modestly, like the opposite of someone screaming "look at me - I'm a bird dude! I'm actually walking down the street with birds on my shoulders!" If there was an opposite to someone like that, he would be it.

Even though I don't know why he walks with these birds, I don't feel the need to wonder that much. Maybe because of his beatific calm which is matched, I should add, by the chilled demeanour of his avian buddies. I get the feeling that if I asked him "Why are you walking with the birds?" he would simply shrug and reply "Because the birds need walking, you know?"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Race

Oh, to live in a world of birds.

Innocence is No Defence

So I woke up this morning to find my house without water. No hot, no cold, no nothing except a little in the kettle from last night which at least allowed me to brew up a cup of joe and settle down to nut this one out. I'd paid the bills, there were no leaks to be found, and after I heard a neighbour blast my cat with a hose I knew it wasn't something to do with the local mains.

I took up a position at my desk with a pen and notepad and began jotting down the facts I knew, calling out to my imaginary friend to make up another batch of coffee because we weren't going anywhere until we cracked this case. After writing: "WATER - NONE" I quickly realised that I didn't know any more facts, and did what anyone in my position would do which was to lean back and throw my pen
across the desk in disgust.

Shortly after, I squatted in front of the water meter out front, trying to determine whether there was any flow. This took a good five minutes since it was a gas meter, but once that little detail was cleared up I fast discovered that someone had turned off the nearby water meter at the tap. Who could have done such a thing, I wondered as I restored water and order to my home. What kind of person would commit such an act, I asked myself as I enjoyed a warm shower. Are there really such reckless but relatively petty criminals walking our streets at night, I pondered as the room began to shiver and echoey harp music filled my mind.

And suddenly I was in the midst of a flashback to my teen years. I must b
e 15 or 16, I guess, judging by the hypercolour tees and slapbands people are sporting. I'm outside the Russell St Greater Union cinema, where Kurt Russell is stinking up the screen in Escape from LA and the Disney version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame is not doing great business. And I'm being interrogated by a pair of policemen on suspicion of carrying drugs. I'm shocked and amazed, but they tell me I "fit the profile". How a floppy-haired pimply nerd in a tee-shirt and old man pants fits any kind of profile besides "unlikely to find a girlfriend before university", I'll never know. But then I'm just a kid, not a cop, and I don't know police procedure. All I know is that my friend and I had, not two hours ago, left a screening of Escape from LA and walked straight across the cinema foyer into the Hunchback of Notre Dame without buying a ticket. You're looking in the wrong places, constable.

I indulge myself in this lengthy stumble down memory lane in order to demonstrate that I've walked a mile or two in the shoes of a hardened con, and if I hadn't seen the error of my ways I'd probably be Chopper by now (but hopefully still with my ears, of which I'm reasonably proud). And I say all this to warn the water-depriving punk who turned off my taps last night - there's still hope, dude. You can always turn your life around.

Last night I also witnessed some police procedure when I went along to Haneef - the Interrogation at the Carlton Courthouse. It's a two-man play based around the 6000-q
uestion interrogation of the first guy charged under Australia's new anti-terrorism laws, and it's pretty interesting. It's kind of ham-strung by the fact that a real interrogation isn't that action-packed or full of sudden twists, being more inclined towards infuriating bureaucratic circling and repetition and wearing down the suspect over 12 hours of numbing boredom. Not great theatre, then. But the writer and cast do a great job of hurdling that little obstacle by a) cutting it back to a lean 90 minutes or so, and b) adding an extra meta-theatrical level by which the two actors themselves have an antagonistic relationship with each other.

The guy playing the interrogator (Simon King) is sympathetic to his character, believing that he was just doing his job and playing it by the book. Haneef's performer (Adam McConvell) can't understand this, since it's obvious that Haneef was treated unjustly. Moreover, he suggests that King's character is only downplaying the unfairness of it all because he thinks this could never happen to (white, middle-class) him.

You get a good sense of the inherent flaws in the new terrorism act, but the play does an even better job at simply showing how the System simply isn't geared towards individual realities, putting abstract concepts of truth and process ahead of everything else. Haneef fits the profile, so he's already guilty, and all that remains is to find the evidence.

Luckily there are some hilarious bits along the way, and the $8 million gasp near the end is fantastic. It's not "political theatre" and the based-on-a-true-story angle prevents it from really launching into something amazing, but it's worth a look if you're interested in the contemporary Australian social landscape and the changes which have occurred in the past decade.

Mohamed Haneef

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Comedy Festival Wrap Up

Well, that's that then and thank god. The last week of the fest was a killer what with comedy fatigue and a head cold which is only now subsiding. It's all done with, however, so if you missed some good shows, sucks to be you. If you missed some bad ones, well done. Here are a few notables worth a look in the future for those of you still reading with nothing better to do (how about Yahtzee?)

KRISTEN SCHAAL - As You Have Probably Never Seen Her Before

I really enjoyed Schaaly but she came in second for me (after Nina Conti), given that I thought she was doing really well something that isn't quite as hard. SNL-style New York quasi-absurdism isn't really as tough to pull off as ventriloquism, and more people are doing it. That said, her Kristen Schaal is a Horse routine will probably be the thing that lasts longest in folks' memories of the 2008 MICF.


Hunter does straight-ish standup but does it super-well. He's one of the rare standups heading into button-pushing offensive territory in a way that I appreciate, mainly because his terribly perilous quips about paedophilia, anal exploration and rape aren't coming from a bad place, but from a decent-seeming guy who doesn't mean what he says any more than you would. He's talking about stuff knowing that it skirts the very edges of acceptability, but never quite tips over that edge. Very funny, very likeable chap.


Winners of the Best Newcomer Award - and worth it. These two guys aren't quite at the top of their game, but watching this year's show suggests that they'll likely one day be a force to be reckoned with in local comedy. They're a pair of Muslim Aussie comics who take on racism and xenophobia in an utterly hilarious way that uses anger to fuel some brilliant humour.


Totally stupid British private schoolboy sketch comedy. Loathed it, then loved it, then ended up onstage miming to a Bob Dylan track.


Winner of the Age Critics Award. Sammy J's star keeps on rising, but the star of this puppets-go-wrong show (think Meet the Feebles, Avenue Q etc) is Heath McIvor, the puppeteer behind the dozen or so weirdo critters who share the stage with Sammy. Highlight for me was the sudden appearance of an 11-foot tall fightin' fox called Mega Squire.

KENT VALENTINE - A Fistful of Rainbows

Valentine hasn't been around that long but you wouldn't tell given the sweet little piece of storytelling he provided for this year's fest. It's two tales - the first pretty inconsequential but the second an absolutely charming recounting of his time spent in Denmark on student exchange, where he befriends a trio of unlikely men in their 90s who are obsessed with reliving the Viking adventures of their ancestors.

DAVE CALLAN - Daylight Savings for the Doomsday Clock

I've liked Callan for years, but haven't seen him for a few. His show this year was a winner, even if it was a bit Powerpoint-heavy. It's a lecture on what's wrong with the world and what to do about it, but it manages to be both insistently funny and not-too-preachy. It also manages to be over now, so there you go (went).

Monday, April 07, 2008

Comedy Festival Round Up 4


Sometimes you need a break from comedy, and thankfully there are comedy shows that give you that. Not bad comedy, but kind of anti-comedy. Puts things in relief, the way a punch in the genitals will. Here are two comics who fit the mould:

NICK SUN - Fisting the Soul

DAVID QUIRK - Kathleen Grace

I don't know what to say about either. Here's a quick impression. Play together. It's probably how you'll feel halfway through each show. Take it however you want (I enjoyed both, is all I can say).

Comedy Festival Round Up 3


MARK BUTLER - Body Language

UK expat Butler is on the borderline of funny. Unfortunately he was stopped at that border and must have had visa issues because instead of crossing into big LOL territory he stayed on the other side of the border, which is a place of casual racism, homophobia, misogyny and paedophilia jokes that - had they made it across the border - would have been jokes but since they also didn't make it through customs instead felt like paedophilia comments. The usual lazy dissing of bogans: I think he targeted Broadmeadows and Dandenong in particular but it could have been other places he's probably never been and has heard arrogant stereotypes regarding. Hard to agree with his superiority to said bogans when much of his act involves trying to pick up women in the front row with "c'mon, you want it" asides and instructions for spotting gay men through their mincing walking styles. Subject matter involves the subtleties of body language and what it really reveals about us, but I left feeling like the whole notion of body language is rubbish. I would have crossed my arms during the show if he hadn't made it clear he'd pick up on it as a defensive response.

AL PITCHER - Idiot Wind

Like comedy, but not.

This festival has taught me that seriousness is not the opposite of humour. The two are pretty close, really. The really funny stuff is the most serious, or the stuff that a comic finds serious but is sorting through using comedy, or is inherently funny but is given a totally serious treatment and is thus more funny. I guess that's why I've been least impressed by comedians trying to make light of utterly banal things. Traffic lights - what's with those moody jokers?! Nobody has actually gone that far, but it's been close.

Al Pitcher isn't a bad comedian but he did an ok impression of one the other night. The topics he got into included our wacky tram system, those crazy emo kids, footy! and that perennial laff-fest, IKEA (how hard to put together, chortle, *cry*). It wasn't that he wasn't trying, but did he really care about this stuff? Did it keep him awake at night? I hope not. Some things you laugh at as a way of handling their unpleasantness, their overwhelming complexity, or your own inability to make sense of the world. Some things you laugh at because they offer you a way to negotiate this dastardly life. I didn't laugh at Al Pitcher, because all he was negotiating were the things that might vaguely annoy or mildly interest me, and it felt like these measly engagements were being served up because the real stuff of comedy was too hard to face. I didn't laugh, and eventually I left.

Comedy Festival Round Up 2


Here are some comedians who are very nice. Some people don't like "nice" and so they should perhaps avoid these people. I like them though yes mostly.

JOSIE LONG - Trying is Good

I do like Josie Long. She seems to see the bigger picture of comedy and develops her material as a response. The bigger picture is that most comedians are angry/bitter/dejected men-children spreading poisonous bile one put-down at a time. I'm not dismissing this style of comedy. Maybe the world can be split into categories of:

a) crazy people not like us
b) stupid people not like us
c) other people not like us

But people like us run the world and sometimes the world is pretty bunko, so maybe the people not like us are worth a look-see and when a comic like Long gives them a go, you hopefully realise that most of us are not like us.

Whimsical optimistic comedy has surprisingly become prevalent at this year's festival, but Long doesn't make it feel too twee or forced.


Like hanging out at your best friend's house for an hour while she makes cakes. She's also your "funny" friend, but you don't know if its because she's your friend or because she's actually funny. Is she actually funny? Or is it because she's your friend? Hang on, she's not your friend. You don't even know her. But you forget that a bit. Does actually make cakes on stage (well, her friend Claudia does) while telling nice jokes that don't really stick with you.


I found this boy a bit twee - then again, my favourite comedy is the twee-est of the twee, the whimsiest of whimsy, the nicest if it wasn't an ugly anagram. TBWTOHF is great stuff, physical humour that blends mime and stand-up and puppetry and a helluva lot of audience interaction with only a few words supplied by voiceovers and the occasional audience comment. That he makes laughs nonetheless should be recommendation enuff. INSERT MIMED GAG OH WAIT ITS THE INTERNET

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Will have to wait. I have about 800 comedy reviews to spew out here but have been too busy seeing said comedy to write 'em up. Gimme a day or two and I'll cough up the goods, I swear. For now, though, I just have to mention the squalid orgy of hatred and misanthropic degeneration I witnessed last night before I lose the angry fire it has stirred in my belly.


Too true. I'm speaking (typing) of GUYS AND DOLLS which is a musical (musical theatre) that has me wanting to barf (blog).

Just when I was beginning to rethink my stance on musicals.

So here's the deal: we have a Guy and a Doll who have been engaged for 13 years because he refuses to set a date. Good comic set-up with plenty of potential. Which after about five seconds made me wonder: who would endure such a thing for 13 years? Clearly a guy of Olympic patheticism and a doll so self-loathing that she'll put up with the dude. Or maybe she's that in love with him? 13 YEARS, people.

And we have another Guy who bets that he can make any woman come with him for what can euphemistically be called a "party flight to Cuba" (actually that's literal, not euphemistic) and the Doll he's matched with, an uptight Salvation Army worker whose main talent is disapproving of anything that actually exists and who has a chorus line who don't even get to dance once. That's how uptight she is. Until she meets her Guy, goes to Cuba - there might have been some light-hearted wooing in there but that's probably wishful-thinking/REM activity on my behalf - and gets duped by her Guy into downing a few litres of Bacardi, getting into a scragfight with a Havana local and "losing her inhibitions" with the "man of her dreams". The idea that a positive sexual awakening is the result of drink-spiking, girl-on-girl violence and waking up to find some seedy gambler licking your tonsils - well, I fear for the previous generation, I really do. In my day that would (does) result in moral panic and the demonisation of youth. I guess date rape was different back in the day.

Once we've left our Girl Gone Wild in Cuba and returned to New York, the Guys are back to their no good ways with constant gambling and fiancee-neglecting and fear of commitment expressed through dance. The Guys in question seem to have a near-pathological obsession with playing the game of "craps" which forces them to huddle in sewers where they can play with their craps and wave guns at one another. The Dolls up above try to get the Guys to resurface and give up the whole crap thing, but they just can't help themselves. The show itself doesn't condemn them either, suggesting that it's only natural - a Guy's gotta do what a Guy's gotta do. Or, given the crap metaphor, when a man's gotta go, a man's gotta go.

All of our Guys end up with their respective Dolls - and let's face it, the terms are suggestive - but how do these independent women reconcile themselves to the fact that their fellas are way more interested in anything that doesn't actually involve them than with anything that does? I'm omitting, of course, the intermittent scenes at the strip club in which the Guys and the audience whoop up the disrobing of females in ways that involve none of the plot whatsoever. Well, the eventual merging of sexes is allowable after a poignant song in which our two lead heroines realise that the best thing to do is to marry whatever beau will take you, failings and all, and then attempt to change his disgusting ways once the merger has been made legally binding. There's an empowering message: snare any shitty guy who'll have you and then hope you can plead him into submission.

Guys and Dolls makes a certain amount of sense in an historical context. As a postwar Broadway musical, I can see it as an attempt to appropriate the sexual liberalism of an earlier exotic Weimar cabaret style and introduce it as a commercially acceptable expression of American freedom in the 1950s. But beneath its apparent sauciness is a rigid, almost hysterical conservatism which suggests that Guys are inherently monstrous and Dolls oughta learn to put up with that and let's just shut up and dance because the alternatives are too horrific to consider. I'd like to see a version of this show that brings to the surface its subliminated nastiness. That shows the characters in all their self-hatred and misery and failure and doesn't dress it up as nostalgic rom-com nonsense

Maybe the unanimous standing ovation at opening night was a crowd saying damn you, Born Dancin', for expecting of a musical something resembling a social statement. Damn you for considering our response as a possible expression of our own submerged frustrations with the concessions we made decades ago when we married our wealthy opening-night-worthy spouses in the hopes that we could change them, one day, just like in the show. Because come on - the songs were pretty sweet.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Comedy Festival Round Up 1

After suffering through my fair share of bad comics over the years, I guess I've developed some kind of internal standby setting that flicks on after about ten minutes of unfunny antics on stage. The brain shuts down to conserve energy and only the vital processes keep running. I'm just like most domestic appliances that way.

This year's been pretty good, though, so I'll try to ladle out some hot steaming reviews onto your waiting plates while I still can.


A few comedians this year have been really clever and astute-like so I'll start with them.

NINA CONTI - Complete and Utter Conti

I'm not a fan of ventriloquists (who is?) but sassy UK comic Conti has used the form to craft a complex narrative which does very strange and sometimes sad things. It seems very loose and unstructured and old-fashioned for quite a while, but you gradually become aware that everything happening is very precisely measured to accomplish a particular effect which is, eventually, one of deconstruction. Barry contender. Very highly recommended. I'd go see this show again (HIGH PRAISE INDEED).

JUSTIN HAMILTON - The Killing Joke

Hammo won Director's Choice last year. I missed his trilogy then. Caught his new one. It's a bit like:


Hamilton plays Jason Harrington and Justin Hamilton in a dialogue between two comedians - one of whom is urging the other to kill himself for some reason. It's a series of musings by a comedian asking himself what he's all about - smart meta-comedy that isn't really laugh-out-loud but raises lots of interesting questions. Hamilton is clearly influenced by the self-referential comics of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison (he namechecks them in the program) as well as some nice cinema of the past couple of decades. Like I say, it's not a gutbuster but it's worth the Barry he's been nominated for.

SAM SIMMONS - Where Can I Win a Bear Around Here?

I have not a lot of ideas why I enjoy Sam Simmons' comedy but I rather do and hope you do too. WHOEVER "YOU" ARE?

You shitheads.